Why, Despite Numerous Red Flags, U.S. Must Continue Relationship With Pakistan
The news out of Pakistan over the last several years has been a roller coaster of strategic victories and suspicious losses. News of high-level Al Qaeda captures are interspersed with reports of last-minute tip-offs before raids. The Pakistani government did help capture such notorious figures as Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (9/11 attacks), Khalid bin Attash (U.S.S. Cole attack), and Abu Faraj al-Libi (Al Qaeda’s #3), but sometimes its difficult to tell which side Pakistan is on.
The U.S. knows that members of the Pakistani government and military have ties to Islamic militant groups, many of which the U.S. State Department considers terrorist organizations. Some of these militant groups (created by the Pakistani government itself) are utilized in guerilla warfare along the Pakistan-India border. The Lashkar-e-Tabai (LeT), for example, claimed responsibility for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks and is widely believed to have been supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The U.S. is also aware that the Tribal Areas of western Pakistan have been used as safe havens for fugitive Taliban fighters and as staging areas for cross-border attacks by Al Qaeda. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even remarked during a May 2010 interview that members of the Pakistani government likely know where Osama bin Laden was hiding. Thus it was no surprise when the May 2nd kill/capture mission revealed that Osama bin Laden had been living for five years in a compound near Pakistan’s premier military academy. Underscoring the distrust of the Pakistani government were revelations that the U.S. purposefully kept Pakistani intelligence in the dark during the top-secret operation.
Referring to the successful operation as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty, Pakistan quickly condemned the mission to kill/capture the mass murderer. Echoing this sentiment are poll figures recently released by the Pew Research Center showing 63% of Pakistanis “disapprove of the operation that killed bin Laden,” while 69% of Pakistanis view the U.S. as “more of an enemy than a partner.”
As of FY 2010, the U.S. (more enemy than partner) has appropriated or reimbursed more than $18 billion to Pakistan for security operations and economic aid, with nearly $4.5 billion contributed in 2010 alone. All this begs the question: “With so many red flags, why should the U.S. continue its strategic relationship with Pakistan?”
At least 60% of the supplies required by coalition forces in Afghanistan are currently moved through Pakistani terrain or airspace. Although the Northern Distribution Network (agreements to cross the borders of certain Asian countries) was created to handle some of the supplies, many of the agreements do not allow for the transport of troops, weapons and other sensitive items. Through various political pressures these routes are ultimately at the discretion of Russia. An agreement between President Medvedev and President Obama last summer supposedly allows for all manner of cargo to move through the region. However, Radio Free Europe reports that as of July 2, 2011, only two flights have taken place. The only other alternative is an overland route through Iran – a contigency only expected to be used when Hell reaches its freezing point.
Stabilization of Afghanistan
A stable government in Afghanistan will require the assistance and cooperation of Pakistan. In the early stages of an independent democracy in Afghanistan, the government will be especially vulnerable to coups and Taliban sympathizers eager to inflitrate the new government (not to mention chaos from narcoterrorists and cartels). Pakistan will be invaluable in providing tactical support during any sudden Afghani uprising, as we saw when Saudi Arabia sent 1000 troops to support the Kingdom of Bahrain in March of this year.
Efficacy of Counterinsurgency Operations
Without the current contributions to the Pakistani government, future counterinsurgency incursions by the U.S. military may be regarded as an act of war. The U.S. took a lot of heat for its unilateral kill/capture mission of Bin Laden. This week the Pakistani government ordered U.S. personnel out of the Shamsi Airbase. Shamsi airfield serves as a critical staging area for immediate drone strikes in the Tribal Areas. While it appears the demand was a ruse to placate the Pakistani populace, U.S. personnel must maintain its presence inside of Pakistan in order to react quickly on actionable intelligence.
Increased Chinese Influence in Pakistan
Although Pakistan regularly faces nationwide power outages and serious economic issues, its government believes that acquiring submarines and nuclear capabilities from China has been the most prudent use of its resources. Such irresponsible deals have allowed China to gain a major economic foothold in Pakistan – some sources claim $20 billion or more in investments. With increasing Chinese domination will come attitudes against free society and the American way of life.
Suppressing Future Islamic Threats
Finally, as one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, Pakistan is essential in preventing and suppressing future Islamic terrorists. A serious concern is that the domestic militancy in Pakistan will become regional insurgency, and regional insurgency will become global terrorism. In this age, the U.S. must maintain a strategic presence in South Central Asia. Maintaining a working security relationship with Pakistan will go a long way toward preventing the next Islamic attack.